Saturday, January 22, 2011

Brain Smarts Over Gene Smarts

Throughout Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, I believe evidence of her support of Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection is not explicitly shown. This theory states that when individuals are put under extreme circumstances, only those who can adapt to their changing environment will survive. As the survivors produce offspring, their children are equipped with hereditary traits, helping them evolve to meet the new living standards of their environment. I think the character showing the most prominent features of adaptation without use of natural selection is Lauren Olamina.

The storyteller Lauren Olamina seems to always be thinking one step ahead, if not two. While many people around her are trying to toss reality out of their mind and think only about the positives in life, Lauren is off trying to take a stand, once exclaiming “we can’t stop denying reality or hoping it will go away by magic” (58). In a sense Lauren is a realist. She realizes that her fortress is in an extreme amount of danger, and that “we’ll die in here unless we get busy now and work out ways to survive” (56). Surviving one day without an attack is unlikely in Robledo. Lauren doesn’t need to rely on genes passed down by her parents to survive. According to Darwin’s theory, the reason Lauren’s mother died was because she wasn’t strong enough to adapt to her changing environment, which is this case would be Lauren entering the world. I think that in actuality Lauren’s mother had maybe a few too many drugs in her, and that combined with the Alzheimer’s disease and giving birth, her body just could not handle all the pressure. Maybe Lauren’s mother passed on the hyperempathy disease, but if she had passed on survival instincts, Lauren’s mother would have survived childbirth.

Since Lauren is very concerned about her future in Robledo, she seems to always be thinking about escaping; thinking about what is behind the wall of her fortress. When Lauren leaves her town for good, she will not be relying solely on the primal instincts of survival, which, according to Darwin’s theory, will be all she needs to make it. Instead, Lauren occupies her time with physical and mental tasks, readying herself for battle. Lauren says that “all the kids who attend school at our house get gun handling instruction” (39). This shows that neither Lauren’s dad, Cory, nor the rest of the people in the fortress believe natural selection is valid. They believe shooting a gun at their enemy will protect them more than the hereditary instinct, as opposed to say punching them in the face.

While the whole fortress seems to believe in physical strength in surviving, I think Lauren is the only believer in mental strength. She knows that you cannot rely on your gun as a means of survival in her brutal world. Lauren’s way of coping with this harsh reality is through her books, as well as her father’s computer. She uses these resources to gain more information about the outside world: the wilderness, weaponry, plants, medicine, and essentials to living (58). Lauren tells her friend Joanne to also read these books, who responds by telling Lauren to stop reading all those adventure stories, and eventually rats her out to the adults. In a way I think Joanne is partially relying on natural selection: she wants to sit idly by and let whatever happens happen. According to the theory of natural selection, the reason Joanne was able to leave Robledo for Oliver was because the survival genes of her family kicked in and told them to move. To me in most if not all things we do, a sense of instinct is always present. If you’re taking a multiple choice exam, the general consensus always says “go with your gut.” While your first instinct might be right more often than wrong, I think the instinct to pick the correct answer is the same as Joanne’s family’s instinct to move. The family’s motivation could have been surviving along with finding a safe place to live, and some compensation for working, but I disagree with Darwin that the reason they survived was because of their genes. Generally your brain is going to be your key survival tool, not your DNA. While I think Darwin’s theory of natural selection has perhaps some amount of validity in the world, I see no prominent displays of Octavia Butler’s support of the theory in her book The Parable of the Sower.


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  3. I particularly like how you related Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection to Butler’s Parable of the Sower as many times throughout the novel I have thought about this as well. I believe that there seems to be a “reverse” Darwin Theory at action; instead of progressing in human civilization and industry, in this world it seems to have went back in progress. People are no longer as civil as they once where, natural resources are very poorly managed, and the world (as we know it so far) is basically in shambles. Civilization as seemed to become more selfish as people begin to only look out for themselves and pass this selfishness onto further generations. I guess “counter-productive” of what Darwin would have probably imagined.

    However, I am a bit confused about your second paragraph; you mention that had “[she] passed on survival instincts, Lauren’s mother would have survived childbirth.” I don’t quite follow the connection between the transferal of survival instincts and Lauren’s mother’s childbirth survival. Perhaps you meant if Lauren’s mother would have been a better ‘survivalist’ she might have been in better condition to give birth.

    I completely agree that Lauren seems to have better survival skills that many of her peers, thus giving her an upper hand in terms of “Darwin’s Theory.” I think this relates back to how humanity has gone back in progression and Lauren has seen this possibly from stories she has heard from family members of the past. Regardless, this seems to give Lauren hope and an idea of how life ideally could be which also gives her an advantage in survival and preparation.